If voters approve a proposed 3/4 cent sales tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot, Rifle businesses could wind up footing much of the bill.
The increase would help cover the $25 million needed for a new water treatment plant, and could reduce the rate of future water rate increases.
As a result, the way local business people feel about the measure may hinge on whether or not their businesses depend on low water rates to thrive.
"I have been trying to get people to vote for the sales tax increase, because the plant is 30 years old, and we can't buy parts for it. It needs to be replaced," said Vicky Choate, chairman of the Rifle Housing Authority, which provides housing to senior citizens in Rifle.
According to Choate, the housing authority pays water bills for 161 senior housing units, meaning that recent rate increases hit the authority especially hard.
The rate increases don't directly affect the seniors, Choate said, because they don't pay their own water bills. But at some point, higher water rates could conceivably induce the authority to raise rent on its elderly tenants.
"It's a no-win situation, but someone is going to have to pay for the water one way or the other," said Choate. "If we get the sales tax increase, everyone who passes through town will help pay for the plant."
That's precisely what Kevin Rider doesn't want to see. As co-owner of Timberline Sports in Rifle, Rider caters to throngs of out-of-town visitors who come to Rifle each year to hunt and fish.
In his mind, these visitors shouldn't be asked to pay for a water system they barely use.
"I think water should be paid for by those who use it," he said. "They shouldn't ask folks who shop in Rifle to pay for water."
Rider said he wished the city had considered a property tax increase as an alternative means of financing the plant, since Rifle property owners are likely to also have a stake in the city's water system.
"Every place I've ever lived, you pay for what you use, and that's it," Rider said.
In September, the city imposed rate increases that pushed the base rate for up to 4,000 gallons of water from $18.29 to $30. The changes resulted in 50-60 percent jumps in the water charges incurred by many residents.
They also introduced new tiers of water use, increasing rates for users of between 4,000 and 8,000 gallons, as well as those who used between 8,000 and 20,000 gallons and those who used more than 20,000 gallons.
More increases are scheduled to take effect in April. Those increases would push the $30 base rate to $37, and hike rates all the way up the consumption scale.
However, City Manager John Hier has said more sales tax revenue could offset the need for those increases, and could allow the city to roll back some of the rate increases already in effect.